Startups, by definition, are in pursuit of growth. Getting traction is proof that you have customer demand—that your company is taking off.
The 50% rule of startups says that you should spend 50% of your time on product development and the other 50% on building traction. Why? Because you need to gain traction before, during and after product launches to survive as a company. Without any early traction, you could run into these 4 scary scenarios after building your product:
- No market: The product you’ve built is great, but doesn’t earn enough money, or people aren’t willing to pay for it.
- Small market: People want your product, but there aren’t enough people to expand or scale to become profitable.
- Hard-to-reach market: The product is great, but it costs too much to reach target customers, and you lose money per customer you acquire.
- Hyper-competitive market: The product is great, but so are the other hundreds of companies in the same sector. The competition is just too great for you to break through.
Traction brings you cold customers who can provide you with valuable feedback during the product development process. This will protect you from the 4 scenarios above.
Before deciding which marketing channel you’ll focus your efforts on, you’ll need to set a traction goal. What numbers mean valuable growth to you?
Product development can be divided into three phases:
- Making what people want: You’re still building a product, and filling “holes” that you find as you get real customer feedback.
- Marketing what people want: You’ve created a good product that fits a certain market and is profitable, so now you’re selling it to target customers.
- Scaling your business: Your product is successful, and now you want to scale up and maximize profits!
As you advance through the phases, your traction goals and strategies will change.
If you don’t see initial traction, don’t be so quick to give up. Look for any signs of real engagement among your user base. If you can find something, it’s worth doubling down on those parts of your product or users and continue.
You may also be a couple years ahead of the market if your product is an emerging technology or unknown invention. In that case, you may have to stay in the game for a year or two before truly gaining traction.